Blog

Following Jesus Christ 3

This is the third post in this series. It contains what I am sending to my high school classmates as we celebrate 55 years as graduates. Although this is written for mostly Christians, its truth is available to all. The Spirit of Christ that I will refer to below is available to all. Gandhi was never a traditional Christian, but he certainly admired Jesus. Gandhi’s life was marked by some of the same characteristics that can be seen in Jesus–and one was the way of gentleness, which is a pathway into the presence of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle; they shall
have the earth for their possession.”
(Matthew 5:5)

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn
from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
(Matthew 11:29)

In my teaching, I have insisted that way too many people “believe” in Jesus, but don’t “follow” him. And sometimes I fall into that crowd. But that does not mean we all can’t do better. We can learn gentleness and humility from Jesus. Again, I say—read the gospels.

The character of Jesus is marked by patience, colored with gentleness. Does Jesus ever get angry? Well, yes, we can see that from time to time. A gentle person can get angry when the situation calls for that kind of confrontation. But for followers of Jesus, Christ-like gentleness is never far beneath the surface.

In looking out at today’s America (and the world), I see that we are flooded with anger, violence, and hatred. Even some Christians, sadly, are more characterized by a bullishness and rage than they are Christ-like gentleness.

As followers of Jesus, our character should mirror Christ’s gentleness. That is possible because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Listen to what characterizes the Spirit work in our lives (hint: it does not include aggression and hatred!) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25)

Peace, LaMon

Following Jesus Christ 2

It has been over a month since my last post about following Jesus. I mentioned then that I was writing short pieces for a virtual class reunion which I would then use in this blog, because following Jesus is one way to experience the presence of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt. 5:9).

You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matt. 5:38-39).

You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:43-45a).

In some ways, the call to practice non-violence and love of enemy is the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings. This is true for Christians all over the world—though there are wonderful exceptions in denominations like Quakers and Mennonites.

America was birthed in violence and war. It is part of our national DNA. We patriotically support any war or military conflict that America engages in. We promote a gun culture that seems to support a level of violence that the early Church would never accept.

Now I know that some of you may be a bit angry at this point, but I hope that you will persevere and read the rest. Some wars can be justified and the defense of our family and the weak can be justified. Nevertheless, if we want to follow Jesus, we must take his teachings seriously and not simply ignore that which doesn’t fit our world view.

Violence should always be the last resort. When violence is finally the only answer, we must strive to use the least amount of violence possible to promote genuine peace. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them. Killing may be necessary, but we will never, if we follow Jesus, rejoice in the death of our ‘enemies’. Following Jesus is rarely easy or popular. But I have found it one great way to experience the presence of God.

Following Jesus Christ I

This year my high school class is celebrating our reunion virtually. In fact we are celebrating it for several months. One of the ways, is that some of us have been asked to write meditations from time to time. I decided to write on following the teachings of Jesus. The theme of all of my blogs is ways or paths to experiencing the presence of God. One way is to follow the teachings of Jesus. So I will be sharing these on my blog in the months to come.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Luke and Matthew affirm that Jesus taught this to his disciples. Matthew’s version simply amplifies the plight of the poor, i.e. they are dis-spirited, crushed, without hope.

If we are to take this saying of Jesus seriously, what must we do? Jesus could say that the poor were blessed, because he knew that his followers would care for them as much as they could. We are called to a practical compassion for the poor. We are called to individual actions of charity, but also to support programs the seek to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

This becomes clear in Matthew 25 where the peoples of the world are judged, not on what they believed, but on what they did. The sheep—those on the right of the Son of Man—cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the imprisoned. Because they acted this way, Jesus said they were blessed by the Father. The goats, on his left, did no such thing and they were cursed.

I honestly don’t claim to know what this all might mean in terms of eternity, but this I know: people following the teachings of Jesus will be more interested in blessing the poor than in shaming or blaming them. We are called to compassion.

Peace, LaMon

If Qoheleth Wrote Haiku

Qoheleth is the word usually translated as “teacher” or “preacher”. He is the primary author of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is one of the more confusing books of the Bible, but certain themes are clear. One is the meaningless of life. Another is that God is cryptic. And also, joy may be found in the simple pleasures of life, so we should never overlook them. Now if he wrote in haiku:

life is meaningless
all things are repetitious
weariness is the norm

nothing endures
all things grow old & die…
darkness is the end

know the truth:
God’s ways are mysterious
puzzling to us all

musing on death
can lead us into despair
so enjoy life now

born with nothing
so shall we leave this life–
enjoy what you can

eat, drink, be happy…
fortunate the ones who can
topsy-turvy world

life’s simple pleasures
in which we can find joy…
approved by God

Qoheleth is right that life is often hard. None of us escape pain and suffering. Nevertheless, most days we can find sweet moments of happiness, if we only look. Perhaps a simple meal, a smile from a friend or even a stranger, holding hands with spouses or loved ones, smelling a flower, hearing bird songs, seeing stars in the sky, etc. Even in spite of our present darkness during this time of pandemic, we can find joy in some of the simple pleasures of life. And God smiles.

I must add a little appendix, for when I think of suffering in the world, I often return to Ecclesiastes 9:11-12–one of my favorite verses in this strange and wonderful work. The last line of this haiku is pure me, not Qoheleth:

misfortune is real
time and chance happen to all…
so quit blaming God

Peace (and joy) to you all,
LaMon

Zoom Retreat

I will be offering a retreat on the value of haiku as a spiritual discipline. It is being sponsored by The Ayres Center of Spiritual Development of St. Mary’s Sewanee University. The dates are 6-8 pm on Friday January 15, 10-4 on the 16th, and 10-12 am on the 17th. You may contact Mary Beth Best, the Reservation Coordinator, at reservations@stmaryssewanee.org.

Peace,
LaMon

Practice Paying Attention

As many of you know, haiku is an important spiritual practice for me. It is so because it requires paying attention. However, one can pay attention without writing haiku. I encourage us all to pay attention in 2021. To that end, I share a poem by Luci Shaw from her fine collection Eye of the Beholder: Poems. It is entitled “Attending” with the note that Simone Weil called this “prayer”.

You begin with a singular gaze into any
thing, any Other. As you witness the moment
you practice the discipline of detail. Focus,
allowing yourself the access of steady regard.
It senses your attention and you will
find yourself joined in mutual love.

–Pebble. Bare twig. Raindrop hanging from
twig–a lens for landscape to enlighten the eye.
–Blue hyacinth, its invisible fragrance
drowning the air as you open the door.
Breath until it fills you and lifts you.
–Thunder, so unambiguously itself
unfurling its huge sail over heaven.
Giver of rain and green lettuce. Let it come
and offer your thanks.

A holy silence as the church fills. Hearts wait.
The priest’s homily before Eucharist,
and then, the Host taken without hesitation by our
waiting mouths. Let each be so present that
it leaves its truth, its hint of the real, its crease
in memory. Inhabit it with simplicity,
and find there a wholeness of intention.

It matters not if you understand each metaphor in this poem. Perhaps it would be good to slowly read it again. But whether you do that or not, take a few moments as you rise from you computer screen, to pay attention to some little thing–perhaps something outside in nature, or a painting or portrait on your wall, or the taste of slowly eaten food and drink, etc.

It is in paying attention that we realize our encounter with what is good and true and beautiful–Reality.

May you all walk a good path in 2021.

Peace,
LaMon

A Morning Walk

Last night I read a sonnet in Malcolm Guite’s After Prayer: New Sonnets and Other Poems. It is in a series of sonnets on the images George Herbert used in his wonderful poem Prayer (1). The poem can be found in George Herbert: 100 Poems, selected and edited by Helen Wilcox.

The image for this sonnet was “heaven in ordinary”. Guite’s poem was beautiful. It helped me write this haiku:

with the light of Christ
heaven in ordinary
shines through creation

Then this morning after writing in my journal, I went for a walk after writing. Before I left, I prayed that I would see some of that divine light shining during my walk. Returning home, I wrote this haiku:

windy november ground
covered in dead wet leaves…
promise of new life

May you see the divine light in your life today!

As always feel free to share my meditations with friends. Anyone can become a follower and receive these in you email inbox. Just click on the appropriate icon–near the bottom, I think 🙂

Getting Through the Pandemic and Other Troubling Times

My advice is simple: holy habits, daily religious or spiritual exercises. I wrote briefly on this some months ago, but felt encouraged to write in more detail.

What do I do each day as part of my spiritual routine?

First, I light a little candle and sing a short chorus or song. No one would want to hear me!

Then I use a bit of liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy is a prayer that I make my own. Right now this is what I am praying; “Lord Jesus, be with us for morning has dawned and the day has come. Be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of you love. Amen.” Those familiar with the BCP, will recognize that I have altered a prayer for early evening for use in the mornings.

Next I read a passage of scripture from the Gospels. I use the suggestion for the day’s reading found in the BCP, but any regular structure would work as well. After reading, I begin writing in my journal. I reflect on the passage; asking questions, making comments, writing haiku, etc.

Following that I read in others books of the Bible or other spiritual readings. Right now I am reading slowly through Kahlil Gibran’s Jesus the Son of Man: His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him. These are images and thoughts by Gibran who attaches them to imagined people in the time of Jesus. Again, I make comments in my journal about what I have read.

I close my journal writing and my morning devotions with notes about the past day, about the day that is before me, and sometimes with written prayers.

In the evenings, I have a much shorter devotional time. I again begin with a bit of liturgy from the BCP. Then another reading. Presently I am in Brian Doyle’s delightful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. Then I pray for family, friends, churches I love, countries I love, and for the environment. I close with the Lord’s Prayer.

The only other element in both morning and evening periods would be short silent pauses with slow breaths in and out.

These holy habits have helped me to get through a lot in these past few months. I am not recommending that you follow in my own pattern, but if you do not have a specific daily pattern of holy habits, I encourage you to start. And if you do, I would love to hear from you about what those are.

help for each day:
enduring difficult times
with holy habits

Peace, LaMon

Simon Weil on Loving God

Recently I have been reading in Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us edited by Laurie Gagne. It contains some of the writings of Simon Weil with a bit of commentary. Weil talks about how we can learn to love God and how it must begin in a mediated way. Only at a later stage may we experience an unmediated connection to God. I think she may be correct. But whether the analysis is accurate or not, I believe she is certainly right about three ways we can love God, as she says, in a veiled way.

I have written three haiku that summarize her thoughts. Perhaps they will help you find a path or way into God’s presence:

we love God
in religious ritual…
love sanctified

we love God
in nature’s simple beauty…
love awestruck

we love God
in our neighbor’s needfulness…
love obedient

May we all grow in the love of God. As always, feel free to share this with others you think would appreciate it. And your comments may help me to walk the paths better. I’ve not yet arrived at the end of the journey.

Peace, LaMon

Human Giftedness

Recently I have turned again to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. In #342, he wrote that God gave us “an eye to behold Eternity and the Omnipresence of God, that [we] might see Eternity, and dwell within it; a power of admiring, loving, and / prizing, that seeing the beauty and goodness of God, [we] might be united to it forever more” 132f.

The “eye to behold” may be our intuition or, perhaps more likely, our imagination. This is comparable to St. Paul’s insistence that we must consider or reckon our selves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).

Our imagination can lead us to God or away from God! If we live our lives as though there were no God, then that is likely what our life will look like. Conversely, if we live our lives as though in God’s presence, we may ‘see’ God all around us. There is nothing wrong with training ourselves to see things a certain way–especially if that way is full of goodness and beauty.

human giftedness:

holy imagination

always seeing God

Like a gift for music which will atrophy if unused, so this human birthright may fade away if we never use it looking for God.

As always, if you like this, feel free to share it with friends, and perhaps encourage them to sign up to receive it in their email inbox.

Peace,

LaMon